Blog - Why are there only three Working Groups in 2011?

t is regrettable and at first glance surprising that only three Working Group proposals were accepted for ITiCSE 2011. To dispell a potential myth: we did not arbitrarily reject any submissions, nor were we limited by the number of rooms to "at most 3 groups. Instead, only three Working Group proposals were submitted. 

So why were there only three submission?

Here are five theories on this; I will leave it up to the reader to decide for themselves whether any of them contributed, and if so, to what degree, to this low number:

  1. The economic situation in many universities has deteriorated or stagnated compared to its level one year ago in January 2010. At the time that Working Groups were submitted for Ankara, Turkey (due January 15, 2010), some university departments may not have felt the economic downturn as drastically as since then, with cuts in support in place in several universities.
  2. The conference location might be believed to be less attractive or less well-known than in previous years, when ITiCSE went to three capitals in sequence: Madrid (2008), Paris (2009), and Ankara (2010). Of course, Darmstadt, which is a nice and small town by any means, cannot be compared with Paris France, and similarly, the three submissions should not be compared with the surprising all-time submission record of 14 Working Groups for Paris, France - because, well, that was Paris, France, and was likely to attract a high number of interested participants!
  3. Over the last years, the number of Working Groups has been variable (the numbers reflect what I could research on the web and may not be totally accurate):
ConferenceLocation WGs
ITiCSE 1996Barcelona, Spain5
ITiCSE 1997Uppsala, Sweden7
ITiCSE 1998Dublin, Ireland5
ITiCSE 1999Cracow, Poland8
ITiCSE 2000Helsinki, Finland6
ITiCSE 2001Canterbury, UK4
ITiCSE 2002Århus, Denmark5
ITiCSE 2003Thessaloniki, Greece4
ITiCSE 2004Leeds, UK1
ITiCSE 2005Monte da Caparica, Portugal5
ITiCSE 2006Bologna, Italy6
ITiCSE 2007Dundee, Scotland6
ITiCSE 2008Madrid, Spain7
ITiCSE 2009Paris, France6 (14)
ITiCSE 2010Ankara, Turkey8
ITiCSE 2011Darmstadt, Germany3

Thus, even in the past, the numbers have been variable, with only three or four Working Groups in 2001 and 2003, and only a single Working Group in 2004. In total, this makes 85 Working Groups, or an average 5.3 per year. Perhaps the low number this year is "simple statistics": several above-average years (2008-2010) are followed by a "below-average" year to balance out, as also happened in 1998/1999 to 2011, and again from 2002/2003 to 2004.

Some topics may be "finished" based on the last year report, or "typical" authors may be prevented from proposing a Working Group this year. (This is more praise for the work done in past years than anything else). At least two persons who have always been highly likely to submit a Working Group are also simply unable to do so this year - namely, Tom Naps (who took part in, and often (co-)lead, nine Working Groups) and me (six co-led Working Groups). Since Tom is one of the two program co-chairs, and I am conference chair for ITiCSE 2011, we both cannot fully support a Working Group, and thus also did not submit a proposal (which I would otherwise certainly have done!). Other authors may have been prevented from submitting a proposal because their personal schedule did not allow for a Working Group this year.

Finally, ACM has changed its publication policy regarding Working Group reports last year - after the submission (and acceptance) deadline. Before 2010, a Working Group would submit its final report to the Working Group coordinators, who would review it in person or send it along to reviewers. If a given report was accepted, it was assured to be printed in the SIGCSE inroads, which at that time was a newsletter. In this way, up to 8 reports were printed in a given year (see the table above).

In 2009 or 2010, inroads changed its status from "newsletter" to "magazine", which prevents the printing of all reports. Instead, the SIGCSE board decided in September 2010 (after the final reports were handed in) that only the two best of the accepted working group reports would be formally published in the March (2011) inroads issue, with the other reports planned to be published in some other venue (but in the end also in the ACM Digital Library). This change in policy is also in effect for ITiCSE 2011, since it is a decision of the SIGCSE board and not of the conference, program, or working group chair(s).

This may well have had an effect on the perceived interest in submitting a proposal. Where before, a publication that "would count" for the university was (almost) assured, the situation has both improved - for the lucky two best reports - and worsened - for the others.

I am not sure that we will ever fully figure out to what percentage these aspects contributed, and what other aspects I may have overlooked. Your comments, however, are very welcome! Please send them to

Dr. Guido Rößling, Feburary 11, 2011

© Dr. Guido Roessling 2018